It is not easy to identify challenges common to the cities and towns of Southeast Asia as the region is diverse in demographic, economic and sociocultural terms. All Southeast Asian countries strive for better standards of living and sustainable livelihoods, but the urban scenarios across the region require different prescriptions for their development goals. However, ASEAN member states are also moving towards regional and economic integration by improving connectivity between existing and potential centres of economic activity. This will have immense repercussions for urbanization and urban development in the member states.
To assist policymakers address these challenges, the ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) of Singapore organized a series of regional workshops on urbanization in Southeast Asian countries from December 2009 to July 2010 to:
• Provide opportunities for ASEAN countries to learn from one another by sharing information and exchanging good practices;
• Assess the preparedness of countries in the region for an increasingly urban future; and
• Discuss and recommend options on how regional cooperation could assist national and sub regional efforts in addressing urbanization issues.
The workshop discussions helped to identify urbanization issues that ASEAN member states could address at national and regional levels. The recommendations that resulted from the discussions were submitted in the form of a preliminary report to relevant ASEAN ministerial and senior officials meetings and the ASEAN Summit. These recommendations now appear in this book together with papers presented and discussed at the regional workshops.
The authors contributing to this book have tried to go beyond an analysis of a particular set of urban challenges within one city or one country, and instead have drawn conclusions and lessons for all the countries of the region. In the opening chapter, Yap Kioe Sheng provides an overview of the urban challenges that Southeast Asian countries face. He summarizes the key challenge as “to promote urban economic growth, while reducing urban (and rural) poverty and protecting the local, national, regional and global environment”. Another challenge he identifies is enabling a more effective and efficient delivery of urban services through decentralization and privatization, when many local governments lack the capacity (and willingness) to use measures for the benefit of the city as a whole. Capacity development and good governance are critical to making urban areas productive, inclusive, and sustainable.
Untreated sewage is one of the main causes for deteriorating water bodies in urban areas of Southeast Asia, and is leading to a complete neglect of these once beautiful environments and undermining the engines of development and growth in one of the most dynamic regions of the globe. Due to climate change, increasing demand for water as a result of urbanization, and other demographic and economic trends, the available per capita water in a given watershed area is rapidly dropping in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia.
At the same time, the production of waste water in total and per capita is significantly increasing. This problem will become even more acute if the supply of safe drinking water to households and its consumption continue to increase at the current pace. An increase in water supply will result in an increase in sewage, which, without proper treatment, will end up untreated in the nearest water body or aquifer. By now the natural self-purification processes in water bodies have been exhausted and the receiving waters have partly become open sewers.
The goal for many cities and towns is to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into water bodies by treating the sewage at the source at the household and neighbourhood level. Returning a water body to its former pristine or more semi-natural state is a challenging undertaking. There is still hope, as water fronts at large and impressive rivers have become major attractions in many cities (for example, Singapore, Phnom Penh) and are now a focus of upscale development. Smaller urban water courses are, however, severely neglected. These water bodies once provided opportunities for cultivation and fishery, recreation, open space, and areas for water storage during flood seasons, but also served as effective drainage system during heavy downpours.
River training works started early and can be dated back to at least two thousand years ago. Many rivers became harnessed on a large scale during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More and more small to medium-sized watercourses were trained as cities expanded. This trend is still ongoing today. Excessive river training and the discharge of liquid and solid wastes into rivers have led to a significant deterioration of many water bodies, and are affecting most urban streams.
The Centre for Liveable Cities and the ASEAN Studies Centre initiated a series of three regional workshops in December 2009 that brought together experts, academics, and practitioners from Southeast Asian countries to discuss urbanization issues in the region, particularly the challenges and prospects for regional collaboration on this matter. The regional workshops would not have been possible without the keen interest and enthusiasm of Andrew Tan, who headed the Centre for Liveable Cities at the time, and who first mooted the idea of convening the workshop series to find a pathway towards closer collaboration in the region's actions and responses on this issue.
Through the workshops, we attempted to identify priority issues that Southeast Asia — and ASEAN member states — need to tackle to ensure that urbanization occurs as an integral part of regional efforts to realize the open, dynamic and resilient ASEAN Community envisioned by leaders of ASEAN. When the workshops concluded in July 2010, ASEAN's efforts for greater connectivity among and within its member states provided an additional impetus for our suggestions to facilitate closer partnerships among ASEAN member states to address urbanization concerns that would inevitably arise from greater regional connectivity.
The workshop recommendations, which were brought to the attention of high- and working-level ASEAN meetings, support the larger strategic objectives of ASEAN community building. Papers presented at the workshop have been developed into thoughtful contributions to help policymakers understand what we as a region face in addressing challenges associated with rapid urbanization, and also identify, for ASEAN as a collective, opportunities to overcome these challenges and enhance the region's prospects.
The ASEAN Studies Centre hopes that this publication will be the catalyst for similar exercises that assist responses to urbanization concerns at the regional and national levels in ASEAN. At the very least, the workshops have created a space for discussion and debate on what countries face in addressing urbanization in their local context. Information sharing will help further identify and clarify concerns that merit closer attention.
Southeast Asia is urbanizing and the challenges emanating from the urbanization are numerous and complex. The ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC) and the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) jointly organized three workshops in December 2009 and March and July 2010 in Singapore to discuss these challenges on the basis of a regional overview paper and a number of other topical papers. Based on the overview paper, the thematic papers, and discussions by participants in the workshops, the following recommendations were formulated for ASEAN's consideration.
1. ASEAN currently does not have a formal network of researchers on urbanization in Southeast Asia. With the CLC-ASC regional workshops as the starting point, ASEAN can develop a network of urban researchers and practitioners in the ASEAN member states, leading towards the establishment of a network of experts on urbanization in Southeast Asia.
2. Most countries of ASEAN have an association or league of municipalities in one form or another. These associations/leagues can be formed into a regional federation of associations/leagues of municipalities to facilitate cooperation, the exchange of information and experiences, and their capacity development.
3. Networking can be further enhanced through regular annual round tables which bring together urban researchers, policymakers and the private sector, with the aim of developing recommendations for more responsive policies to address the challenges of urbanization in Southeast Asia, for consideration by ASEAN decision-makers.
DEVELOPING MORE RESPONSIVE POLICIES
4. Urban-specific data are required to formulate effective policies on critical urban issues, especially data on the impact on urbanization and urban settlements of increased connectivity and economic integration in the region. Building on the CLC-ASC regional workshop series. ASEAN can further develop a series of workshops for policymakers, statistical offices, and researchers from member states to discuss the collection and use of urban-specific data.
5. Economic globalization, decentralization, privatization, and climate change mitigation and adaptation are largely uncharted territory for cities and towns in Southeast Asia. It is timely for ASEAN to commission a series of studies on good practices in urban development under these conditions.
6. Many local governments lack the capacity to make use of the opportunities offered by decentralization, privatization and economic globalization, and to deal with climate change. This hampers the development of cities and towns.
The story of urbanization gaining pace is a familiar one in many parts of the world. The Southeast Asian region is no different. In 1950, the rate of urbanization was only 15.4 per cent. The rate today stands at slightly over 40 per cent and is projected to increase to 49.7 per cent by 2025.
While the circumstances surrounding each city within Southeast Asia are unique, the challenges that cities can identify with and collectively address as a region are common. Overburdened cities struggle to supply essential urban infrastructure, services, and shelter to residents, but they have also lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Cities are now also more interconnected and share more anxieties — from financial crises and rising inequality to climate change.
Governments need to find creative mechanisms to mobilize the private sector and civil society to generate economic growth and reduce poverty, improve productivity and living conditions, protect the environment, and adapt to climate change.
Against this backdrop, liveability and sustainability have become central concerns for many urban leaders. At the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), we believe that good urban governance and integrated planning, demonstrated through sound policies and effective legal and institutional frameworks that mobilize human and financial resources, can result in a city being adaptable to changes in environmental, social, and economic systems over the long term.
Over a series of three workshops, the CLC was most fortunate to have partnered the ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC) in bringing together experts in the region to gain a better understanding of urbanization trends in Southeast Asia. This included an Expert Panel Session at the World Cities Summit 2010 (WCS) in Singapore on 30 June 2010, which provided a platform for regional leaders to share and discuss experiences on the subject. In all, the workshops had allowed for regional urban researchers and policymakers to exchange views on challenges, identify opportunities, and exchange experiences and practices associated with rapid urbanization.
I am happy that the research arising from the proceedings and discussions of the workshops has been captured in the rich and diverse discourse in this book on Southeast Asian cities. This will extend the influence of the ideas and best practices far beyond the workshops and summit.
This chapter discusses how urban development in Southeast Asia has and is being shaped and affected by regional cooperation. The initial reaction of some may be bewilderment or a retort that regional cooperation in Southeast Asia has always been limited, and its impact on urban development is even more so. The chapter argues against both these perspectives and, in the first part, discusses how regional cooperation in the colonial era had profound and long-lasting impacts on the urban sector. The second part of the chapter argues that trade-facilitation-focused regional cooperation is today changing the urban landscape of Southeast Asia through the reduction of transaction costs, risks, and uncertainty. The chapter notes that while primate cities will still continue to grow, there will be significant activity among the secondary cities and smaller towns of the region. The final part discusses the motive forces that will take the emerging urban landscape further, as well as the challenges faced. Policy-induced regional cooperation will change urban patterns, but further development depends on economic growth and the ability to take advantage of market forces. While all of Southeast Asia is considered, the focus is on mainland Southeast Asia, which includes Thailand as well as the newer members of ASEAN — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam — which are primarily thought of in terms of their ability to “catch up” with older members. The chapter argues that their reputation as laggards may become inappropriate in a very short time.
Colonial ERA Regional Cooperation
The evolution of Southeast Asian urbanization has been depicted by Dutt and others as consisting of four phases: (i) indigenous urbanization, (ii) colonial urbanization, (iii) extended pre-industrial urbanization, and (iv) industrial city urbanization (Dutt 1994). The focus of many studies has been on colonial urbanization and, in particular, the location of major cities in coastal areas or at river mouths to support trading activities and, later, to facilitate the export of raw materials from the colonized countries. Urban development, therefore, took place within the context of a global economy which was effectively controlled by a few European countries and prominent business concerns within these countries.
Two major global processes dominating the twenty-first century are expanding urbanization and climate change. These combined events are likely to have colossal impacts on human activities globally and in Southeast Asia. Rapid urbanization has made cities the norm of human living worldwide. Globally the world's urban population lives in 408 cities of over one million people and twenty megacities of over ten million people; of the 408 cities, 377 cities are in the developing world, and Asia has 67 per cent (377 cities) of the global total (Flavin 2007, p. xxiii). Despite the fact that cities cover less than 1 per cent of the world's surface area, they accommodate over 50 per cent of the world's population, use 75 per cent of the world's energy, account for 78 per cent of carbon emissions, and are responsible for 75 per cent of greenhouse gases (Brown 2001, p. 188; World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) 2009, p. 8).
There is a plethora of literature on global climate change which does not need repeating here (Flannery 2006; Dawson and Spannagle 2009; Touffut 2009; Posner and Weisbach 2010). Another endorsement of climate change is the recent idea of “planetary boundaries”, which are meant to define “the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet's biophysical subsystems or processes” (Rockström et al. 2009, p. 472). Based on nine Earth-system processes (climate change, rate of biodiversity loss — terrestrial and marine — interference with the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global freshwater use, change in land use, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading), this study found that three of the nine Earth-system processes, namely climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and interference with the nitrogen cycles, “have already transgressed their boundaries” (Rockström et al. 2009, p. 473). Given these twin issues, this chapter aims to assess the adaptive and mitigation challenges Southeast Asian cities face with respect to climate change. Specifically, the chapter explores the urban policy options regionally and nationally.
This chapter aims to identify key challenges in engaging local governments in the Southeast Asian region in the promotion of sustainable urban development. The engagement with local governments is considered imperative in the context of various macro-level transformations that are currently going on in the region, namely rapid economic growth, urbanization, democratization, and decentralization. These transformations have generally thrust local governments and local communities into prominence in ensuring that rapid urban development in the region is more sustainable, or otherwise allowing the formation of harmful towns, cities, and urban settlements through neglect or lack of capacity.
Therefore, it is crucial that local governments and communities have the necessary awareness and knowledge of the various aspects of sustainable urban development, as well as the needed skills and capacities to make it happen. There are at least two different ways that local governments can take to come to that point or, at least, to start embarking on a path that will lead to sustainable urban development.
One is when local governments or communities become serious in making their cities sustainable without being deliberately and significantly engaged by external parties. There are documented good practices where local leaders and communities became the major driving force for the needed local innovations.1 However, in many other cases, external parties are needed to instigate and support the initiatives. These can be in the forms of urban-related national policies, international conventions, or donor-supported projects and programmes.
In most cases though, a combination of both internal and external factors exist in the efforts to make urban development in Southeast Asia more sustainble. In addition to the two different ways, distinct political institutional settings from one country to another also engender different methods and approaches in such endeavours. This chapter elaborates on the various ways of engaging local governments in promoting sustainable urban development.
THE CONTEXT FOR INCREASING ROLES OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
In the past couple of decades, the Southeast Asian region has been undergoing various transformations, such as rapid economic growth that is naturally followed by urbanization, and democratization that is generally followed by decentralization of authorities to the local governments. There are certainly great variations among countries — and more starkly among cities — in the region with regard to the extent of these transformations.
URBANIZATION AND POVERTY IN ASEAN
The steady urbanization of Southeast Asian nations is generally viewed as a positive development in the economic history of the region. Cities are recognized as epicentres of economic growth and contribute significantly to national incomes. Because of their ability to earn more in absolute terms, urban populations are generally perceived to be better off than their rural counterparts.
All over Asia, poverty incidence is still much higher in rural areas than in urban areas. National governments will therefore tend to address rural poverty in national policy and plans, given resource limitations. It is often said that although poverty seems more visible and geographically concentrated in cities, the poor who choose to stay in urban areas are much better off than their rural counterparts. Despite having very low cash incomes, the poor in urban areas are expected to have, at the very least, more access to social services in the cities.
Because poverty has often been associated with rural areas in Southeast Asia, urban poverty issues have largely been relegated to the background in the regional policy discourse. Regional level efforts that deal with economic development as a means to address poverty often focus on investments in infrastructure and agricultural productivity in rural areas. Urban development is then largely left to market forces or private sector decisions. Moreover, rural poverty is seen as more urgent and compelling and therefore more resources and time are poured into addressing it.
However, with the rise of urban populations and, with it, an increase of urban poverty incidence, addressing urban poverty issues alongside rural poverty issues may no longer be delayed. An estimated 41.8 per cent of Southeast Asia's total population or, almost 245 million people, live in urban areas. In 1950 the urban population represented only 15.4 per cent of the total population. By 2025, the urban population of the region is expected to increase to 49.7 per cent of the total population (Yap 2010).
The rise of urban populations is expected to put pressure on the existing infrastructure and social services in cities. The informality of infrastructure and services provision in cities, as evidenced by informal settlements in rapidly expanding urban centres, is a concern of national governments. Civil society organizations and community-based non-government organizations regard informal settlements as solutions rather than problems.
Cities are now the homes of more than half the population in the world. In fact, it is projected that more than 70 per cent of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2030. Though most cities have higher economic growth, foreign investment, and labour productivity than the rest of the country, they are also more polluted, crime ridden, and socially disparate. Successful cities attract talented, young, highly-skilled workers, are centres of innovation and entrepreneurship, and are competitive locations for global and regional headquarters. The proximity of universities to research and production facilities means cities are where new products are developed and commercialized. It is reported that more than 80 per cent of patents are filed in cities. Empirical studies based on within-country information show a strong positive connection between density and productivity; transition to dense urban living seems to be part of the process of a country becoming richer over time (Glaeser and Gottlieb 2009).
Indeed, the rapidly rising degree of worldwide urbanization has led to the growing recognition that cities and their surrounding urban regions play a vital role in national economic competitiveness. A book co-authored by M. Weiss and H. Cisneros entitled, Teamwork: How Cities and Suburbs Develop Metropolitan Economic Strategies to Innovate and Prosper in the Global Marketplace asserts that cities and the metropolis — urban regions — are the fundamental building blocks of prosperity and quality of life, both for the nation and for families and communities.
However, one should not assume that cities do not falter. The OECD Territorial Reviews (2003) reports that cities such as Berlin, Fukuoka, Naples, and Pittsburgh perform below the national average for income, productivity, skills, and employment. There are also indications that mega-size cities — those with more than seven million people — such as Seoul, Mexico City, Istanbul, and Tokyo — have outgrown the economies of scale normally associated with cities. In a study of eight Asian cities, it is reported that “urban development in Asia is largely driven by the concentration of local, national and increasingly, international profit-seeking enterprises in and around particular urban centres” and that “cities may concentrate wealth both in terms of new investment and high income residents but there is no automatic process by which this contributes to the costs of needed infrastructure and services”.
Any foreign visitor to Singapore, on leaving Changi Airport and commuting several kilometres on most roads, would not fail to notice that public housing is one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous features covering much of the island republic. Indeed, official figures indicate that 83.2 per cent of Singapore residents, comprising citizens and those granted permanent residency, live in flats built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), a government statutory body, while most of the rest reside in private condominium apartments or landed properties (Department of Statistics 2010, p. 7).
Moreover, notwithstanding the “public housing” label, an overwhelming 97 per cent of HDB dwellers live in “sold”, as opposed to “rental”, properties. Some 77 per cent of the “sold” units are of the larger flat type, ranging from four-room to executive apartments (HDB 2010a, p. 14). These figures are the outcome respectively of the government's home ownership policy, as well as a manifestation of residential and social mobility, which has contributed to the emergence of a visually homogeneous middle-class society in housing terms.
IS COMMUNITY POSSIBLE AND ALIVE IN THE HDB ESTATE?
This highly successful housing programme began in the 1960s to handle the massive resettlement of the population from kampongs or villages and overcrowded inner-city neighbourhoods with poor utilities and sanitation amenities. A consequence of this programme was the rupturing of old neighbourly ties and community, real or imagined. Not surprisingly, providing citizens with a roof over their heads has turned out to be not the HDB's only mission. It also aims at community building, a process which corresponds to nation building in post-independence Singapore.
Wong and her colleagues (1997, p. 443) observed that “the HDB's housing philosophy has evolved from the emphasis of the early 1960's on providing basic shelter to the present emphasis on providing a total living environment and supporting community development within the housing estates”. They also noted that “the concepts of neighbourhood and precinct planning, the provision of common spaces such as void decks, playgrounds and segmented corridors, have been introduced in order to encourage social interaction among residents who share common facilities”, and that “HDB area officers are being trained in community relations and extensive co-operation is given to grass-roots organizations and voluntary agencies to help nurture a community spirit among the residents” (Wong et al. 1997, p. 444).
In Southeast Asian countries, urban areas have been developed with rapid economic growth and expansion of population. The economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) experienced an average growth rate of 5.9 per cent between 2003 and 2008 (ASEAN Secretariat 2009). The total population of the region in 2008 was about 580 million and was projected to rise to 650 million by 2020, with more than half living in urban areas (United Nations 2007). The urban population in the region has been steadily increasing from 31.6 per cent of the total population in 1990, to about 47 per cent in 2008 (ASEAN Secretariat 2009). However, due to the rising population in major cities, the development of urban infrastructure and public services such as sewage systems, wastewater treatment facilities, and public transportation networks, has been inadequate and these services have become less effective, causing serious problems to the quality of life of residents, and obstructing sustainable growth of the ASEAN countries.
Since the introduction of decentralization efforts in several ASEAN countries in the 1990s, many local governments have been responsible for the delivery of urban services. However, their financial and administrative autonomy remains a challenging issue. The ability of local governments to raise revenue and provide adequate services continues to deteriorate as city populations grow, while their administrations are still trapped in bureaucratic traditions and lack capable staff.
Facing budgetary constraints and recognizing their inability to provide infrastructure services efficiently, governments in many countries have been rapidly adopting neoliberal approaches and a market-based economy. This has led to radical changes in the characteristics and respective roles of the public and private sectors. Coping with the new market economy requires governments to reduce the size of the public sector and give a greater role to a more dynamic private sector under public-private partnership schemes.
The purpose of this chapter is to identify issues and challenges in the area of public-private partnerships for infrastructure provision and finance at the urban and national levels in Southeast Asia. More thought will be given to discussing essential features of the regulatory and legal frameworks required to support public and private sectors to deliver urban infrastructure services effectively.
While there are diverse definitions of liveability, few would disagree that green spaces are an important contributor to liveability in urban places. In a paper published in 1987, two officers from the Department of Environmental Management of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) agreed that “there is consensus in the view that the quality of urban life depends largely on the amount and quality of green space within it or close to it” (Olembo and Rham 1987). The former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, went as far as to expound that “parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a city's happiness” (PPS 2003).
Indeed, many studies have shown the multiple benefits of urban green spaces for the social, environmental, and economic well-being of urban communities. The well-being of these three spheres is essential for building a liveable city. In addition, good governance and integrated planning are necessary as they facilitate programmes and policies that ensure the health and well-being of the three spheres.
Liveability is defined as the suitability to live in a place and is often associated with the city's environmental quality, health, and quality of life (Mamas and Komalasari 2008). Beyond basic needs such as sanitation and water, there are social, economic, and environmental health needs. The provision of urban green spaces is a prime example of how policy programmes can effectively augment the social, environmental, and economic liveability of a city. This chapter will explore how urban green spaces are increasingly being recognized as an important source of fulfilment of social, environmental, and economic needs in Southeast Asian cities.
ROLE OF URBAN GREENERY
The terms “urban greenery” or “urban green spaces” include everything in cities that has vegetation, also collectively known as “green infrastructure” (Gairola and Noresah 2010). It includes horticultural parks, streetscapes, green areas, and open spaces, as well as forests and other natural habitats of urban biodiversity such as riverine and coastal parks. Such a broad definition is necessary as a city's geography and history shape its urban greenscape differently. Some recent developments in horticultural parks have further blurred the divide by attempting to “recreate naturalistic landscapes … characterized by informal design, favourable maintenance to wildlife and a preference for native vegetation” (Tzoulas and James 2004). A common denominator in all is the role of these green spaces and parks as a type of urban open space.
The topic of rural-urban dynamics in ASEAN is hardly new; in fact, it has been a mainstay of both academic and public policy debate in the region for at least six decades. What is new is that the context has changed dramatically over the last ten to twenty years. This chapter revisits ASEAN's rural–urban dynamics from such a perspective. What is new in terms of the context of rural–urban dynamics can be summarized as follows:
1. The growth of peri-urban areas: The rise of manufacturing in several countries in Southeast Asia has led to the growth of peri-urban areas, which are an important destination for rural migrants.
2. Increase in cross-border trade under the ASEAN Free Trade Area: Urban, peri-urban, and rural areas are increasingly affected by external forces such as the increase in cross-border trade. While there can be winners or losers, the impact of cross-border trade is generally unfavourable for rural areas.
3. Increase in connectivity: Rural and urban areas are much better connected in communication and transportation terms as a result of the rise of low-cost powerful communications and transportation systems. Cellular phones are now ubiquitous in ASEAN countries; information circulates at speeds unthought of ten years ago, with 3G networks likely to become widely accessible, thereby further increasing communication potential between rural and urban areas, including among urban migrants and the rural poor. Transport is similarly becoming less expensive, including travel by low-cost airlines serving smaller centres. This means that migration is less jarring, while information on most markets, for example, for urban labour and farm prices, is much more efficient.
4. The rise of regional migration: While labour mobility is relatively more restricted than the flow of goods in ASEAN, the reality is that residents of ASEAN increasingly consider, and often act on, regional labour options for the sake of higher standards of living, or as refugees. Cross border migration for employment is becoming widespread throughout the region; for example, Cambodians staff tourist facilities in Koh Chang, Thailand. Thus rural-urban linkages may be between a rural area in one country and an urban one in another — complementing traditional rural-urban linkages which tend to be with the nearest large city in the same country.
When an integrated regional approach on addressing urbanization in ASEAN countries is being considered, the question that most readily comes to mind is why a regional approach is necessary for this issue. Past practice in ASEAN has not shown that the association's members feel an urgent need to tackle the issue regionally. Urbanization is still largely seen as a national responsibility rather than an issue with regional implications. When the topic does come up for discussion, there is a tendency to dismiss its cross-sectoral relevance.
It would be relevant to bear in mind, however, the role of regional institutions in pushing action at national levels. Dua and Esty (1997) highlight that the regional level represents a critical middle ground between global and national scales. Regional cooperation mechanisms — by their very nature, a peer process — can thus facilitate the formulation and implementation of necessary policies and measures at several levels, including the national and subregional. Although referring to environmental governance, Kimball (1999) has made the same emphasis on regional systems (of environmental management) being “essential” to securing agreements for, and implementation of, specific action programmes.
The challenge here is whether urbanization presents the same imperative for action and “management”. Koh and Robinson (2002) argue that ASEAN does not have a core bureaucracy, with its permanent secretariat in Jakarta playing a largely limited role in facilitating the implementation of regional agreements. However, with the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter in December 2008, there is a wider scope for the ASEAN Secretary-General and officers of the ASEAN Secretariat “to facilitate and monitor the progress in implementation of ASEAN agreements and decisions” (Article 11, paragraph 2). The Protocol (1992) amending the 1976 Agreement on the Establishment of the ASEAN Secretariat details the functions and powers of the Secretary-General, including to “initiate, advise, coordinate and implement ASEAN activities” and “develop and provide the regional perspective on subjects and issues before ASEAN”.
This indicates the existence of a window for ASEAN to consider urbanization issues as part of the regional cooperation agenda. The question then arises as to which among the plethora of ASEAN meetings and mechanisms would take up the challenge, or whether setting up a new regional mechanism is feasible.
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